With a longish coastline on the east and west and a number of all …
With a longish coastline on the east and west and a number of all weather ports, India is all set to promote cruise tourism with the Union Ministries of Tourism and Shipping joining hands to identify it as a thrust area.
The Shipping Ministry has already constituted a standing committee of all the state governments involved in making the voyage an interesting experience, according to D T Joseph, secretary, Shipping.
At any given point of time, about ten to 20 ships are cruising in Indian waters and with the arrival of Queen Mary this year, the identified ports, both on the western and eastern coast, are being refurbished to receive such cruises.
Although all the port trusts are taking keen interest in developing infrastructure, Joseph, however, feels that the response from the private sector in capitalising in this sector is awaited. He regrets that inspite of advantages, India`s presence in cruise tourism segment is not felt.
Ship itself was a destination as against inland monuments of attractions and that both cuisine and entertainment on board play a very important part in development of cruises, Joseph told a seminar here recently.
He opined that there was a need to package these two aspects coupled with a hassle-free movement of tourists coming on board, at the port as well as during customs clearance apart from providing for a facility for the ship itself at the port.
According to Amitabh Kant, joint secretary, Tourism, Europeans are taking to cruise tourism in the Mediterranean between March and September and hence it is possible to attract them during the period of October to March in the Indian waters.
What is needed is a proper marketing blend with the ground realities and India as a tourism product to be branded in cruise segment, he says. Although the tourism ministry is keen to give an impetus to cruise tourism and is already working with the shipping ministry, Kant suggests that there is a need for the private sector to bridge the viability gap.
Kant informs that the Ministry of Tourism is ready to fund cruise tourism activity to the extent of 26 per cent.
According to Rani Jadhav, chairperson of Bombay Port Trust, American tourists are now looking forward to cruises in newer environments. India gives a good experience to tourists both in terms of variety of destinations and cuisines and hence cruise tourism needs to be promoted, she opines.
In coordination with the Ministry of Tourism, Bombay Port Trust has taken several initiatives to create friendly procedural network which includes appointment of nodal officers at every port, constitution of central marketing agency and an ongoing interaction with various operators to put in place a specific system for removal of bottlenecks, Jadhav says.
Union Minister of Shipping Shatrughan Sinha assures that his ministry would do its best to create user-friendly cruise terminals. Welcoming help from World Trade Organisation and Ministry of Tourism for funding of port facilities in India, he however feels port charges should be brought down to make it more competitive than the ones prevailing in other countries. Says Dilip Gandhi, Minister of State for Shipping, Cruise tourism is a tool for further development and can achieve a place of national pride in the next few years under the Prime Minister`s programme for development of roads and waterways. He, however, feels that all the parties involved will have to work together.
Picturing the worldwide cruise tourism scenario, Xu Jing, regional representative for Asia and Pacific, World Trade Organisation, describes cruise tourism as a good product by itself for all types of tourists, budget and wealthy.
According to him, a cruise ship is not a ship that goes from one destination to another. He compares it with a floating resort and highlights advantages of its mobility.
Quoting a study, he says the average stay of a tourist on a cruise ship is seven nights and almost 58 per cent of the tourist are first timers. While elders predominate, couples constitute almost 65 per cent of the tourists, with the average age coming down to 45, over the years.
Giving examples of tourists coming from various income strata as well as countries, he emphasises that the Asian market is different from the American. In Asia, a tourist prefers to pay only for the cruise, instead of an inclusive package that includes food and entertainment.
Cruise tourism can definitely look forward to hotel segment, apart from holiday makers and adventure tourists. A cruise is as good as three to seven star hotels put together and inspite of a downturn over the years, there is no shrinkage in capacity in this segment, Xu Jing feels.
The WTO representative opines that if India is to take care of two negative aspects — dumping of waste and maritime safety and security — it can become a major destination for cruise tourism.
He, however, advocates the introduction of theme ships and promotion of India as a diverse destination throughout the segment. To achieve this, what is required are attractive ships, friendly ports, connectivity with inland destinations and short and mid-term voyages.
Making a projection for the year 2007, he feels that this segment is expected to grow by over eight per cent by then.
Krishna Kotak, who has been handling cruises, harps on feeder connectivity to inland destinations. Inland waterways in India cannot be used for navigation and the regulatory system needs to be converted into a single window system if we have to welcome cruises in India, he says.
According to him, India can be an ideal location from October to March to attract cruises from abroad and the ports would have to have separate arrangements for passenger traffic including friendly facilities for baggage movement. He, however, laments heavy port charges levied in India and hopes they would be reduced, rationalised and made competitive.
To sum up, India has a good potential for tapping cruise tourism segment. As Robert Gwyn Huges, Consultant, WTO, suggests, India should penetrate the western market.
Robert feels the world is looking forward to India and China to explore new opportunities in this segment.
As a note of caution, he says India should not become too ambitious and should go step by step in achieving its objective to promote cruise tourism. (PTI)
Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales. She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.